Sri Lanka v West Indies, 2nd Test, Colombo November 28, 2010

Team selection gave Sri Lanka the edge

West Indies made a mistake by dropping Andre Russell for the second Test, but Darren Bravo's innings was a bright spot for them

The West Indies, overwhelming underdogs before the bell, returned to their corner after the first round in Galle pleased to be ahead on points. They took early command and forced their favoured opponents, on home territory, to defend for survival. But for a few missed chances, they would have shaken the Sri Lankans even more, but they simply didn't have the punching power to deliver an early knockdown.

For all but a brief, early period, they were the ones on the receiving end when the second round ended on Saturday at the Premadasa Stadium. But for the weather at the tail-end of the annual monsoon season in Sri Lanka reducing the match's allocated 450 overs to 212.5, they would certainly have been flat on their backs and seeking resuscitation prior to the third and final round that starts on December 1 in Kandy.

Several factors brought about the transformation, which confirmed the ICC Test rankings of Sri Lanka at No.3 and the West Indies at No.7. The most telling was selection. The West Indies made just the one change. In hindsight, and given the conditions, it was wrong, if understandable.

Sri Lanka, shaken by their Galle experience, had three. They made all the difference. Between the Tests, the West Indies were taken aback by the umpires' report on Shane Shillingford's action, since two of the officials involved, Steve Davis and Asad Rauf, presided over him without a quibble in West Indies' home series against South Africa in June.

Captain Darren Sammy and coach Ottis Gibson, naturally, publicly stated their support for their new offspinner. All things being equal, he deserved to keep his place and he did. Since Sulieman Benn, who was unavailable for the first Test due to a one-match suspension, returned, it meant that Andre Russell had to make way.

Quite apart from unbalancing the bowling, doubts hung over Shillingford as low and as visible as the clouds that repeatedly enveloped the ground. He is at the start of his Test career and his reaction to his action being questioned was only natural. It was not surprising that he did not present nearly the problems he had in Galle.

It was also clear that Benn was short of work. This was his first meaningful bowl since the last South Africa Test in Barbados in June. It left the impressive Kemar Roach, a relative newcomer in only his ninth Test, without the support of anyone above medium-pace and the new ball in the hands of captain Sammy, a third, often fourth seamer, in his previous appearances.

Sammy bowled as well as he can on a pitch of encouraging bounce and movement on the first day. But he managed only one wicket - Mahela Jayawardene with a wicked incutter - in a marathon 17 overs. Russell's extra zip would surely have helped ask more serious questions. In the circumstances, Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera converted 34 for three into 204 for four before Dwayne Bravo, underutilised on the first day, accounted for Samaraweera. Sangakkara and the lower order then saw to it that the total mounted to an eventual 387. It was just what the rejigged Sri Lanka bowling needed.

The two listless, wicketless fast bowlers from Galle, Thilan Thushara and Dammika Prasad, had been replaced by Nuwan Kulasekara, an experienced campaigner, and Suranga Lakmal, a lively, eager 23-year-old newcomer. The flighty offspinner Suraj Randiv reverted to the reserves to make way for the little left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, aged 32 and with the background of 21 Tests. It gave the attack better balance. Gayle could not impose himself, as in Galle, and Adrian Barath fell early so Sangkkara could summon his trick-artist Ajantha Mendis at 73 for two in the 24th over rather than 88 without loss.

Mendis immediately prised out Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the usual middle-order rock, and bowled throughout with the confidence he only found in Galle after he removed Gayle and proceeded to clean up the mesmerised tail. In addition, Sangakkara remembered that Tillakaratne Dilshan, used for just three of the West Indies' 163 overs in the first Test, was not only a right-handed Gayle at the top of the order but a useful offspinner as well. His dismissal of the contrasting left-handers Brendan Nash and Darren Bravo that ended a restorative partnership of 83 in the gloaming at the end of the third day set up a tense finale.

The torrential downpours and the persistent, ensuing drizzle that completely erased the fourth day were showers of blessing for the West Indies. Even then, and with the fifth day's delayed start, there were several anxious moments before the stumps were eventually pulled and the two combatants went back to their corners. The West Indies were the more bloodied. It was not all gloom for the visitors. Nothing, not even Sangakkara's 24th Test hundred, lit up the Premadasa Stadium as clearly as the 80 of the young Bravo, Darren. As everyone in Trinidad has always known - and now the world does through television - he is a special talent with an uncanny resemblance in batting style, movements and even facially to one Brian Lara to whom he is related.

The pressure of captaincy might be telling as it has done with almost every recent incumbent but Sammy, as does Dwayne Bravo, needs to start producing.

As a host of gifted sportsmen have experienced, such comparisons are usually the kiss of death (think, for instance, Bernard Julien and Garry Sobers). On all early evidence, it is unlikely to be so in Darren Bravo's case. It is impossible not to see the similarity when he uncorks a flashing cover-drive or casually dances into spinners to launch them for straight sixes, as he did four times against Herath and Mendis.

Aged 21, he has approached his first two innings in Test cricket in the critical No.3 position - entering at seven for one in the third over in his second - with a composure and maturity that more than just hint at a future of pure pleasure for all who appreciate class out of the ordinary.

With Barath, 20, Roach and Russell, 22, and others in the 'A' team back in the Caribbean like Kraigg Brathwaite, 17, and Keiron Powell, 21, there is optimism about future prospects. This has been counterbalanced over the past two Tests by evidence of the continuing crisis of leadership that affects so much in all Caribbean life at present.

It means, in this case, that Sammy and Dwayne Bravo are two all-rounders who must be accommodated at the same time in the absence of a captain who can command his place. The reasons for Sammy's elevation to the position are well known. Gayle and Bravo, previous captain and vice-captain, effectively disqualified themselves by choosing to turn down the board's retainer contracts. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan both previously did the job but have made it known they are no longer interested.

So Sammy was the choice. Unlike every other alternative mentioned, he never held a settled place in the team, but he was seen to have the necessary strength of character. He has had a shocking initiation: out first ball in Galle and third ball at the Premadasa and just a couple of wickets to show from 59 overs. There have even been a couple of uncharacteristic missed catches. The pressure of captaincy might be telling as it has done with almost every recent incumbent but Sammy, as does Dwayne Bravo, needs to start producing.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sportsscientist on December 1, 2010, 2:41 GMT

    If Sammy has been selected as captain by the WICB to control the rebels who have backed Gayle, bravo & co....then shame on them, for using a young enthusiatic cricketer as a means to an end. They will only end up destroying what ever unity is left in the side, and prevent the WI recovery for at least the next 5 years. if we are to believe the official line, Sammy needs all support he can get, as he has age on his side & is the only man available for the job - who is WILLING to do it!! In that case we have no choice....he needs ALL OF OUR BACKING !!Irresepective of which of the 2 views you accept - Bravo, Sammy, 2 spinners & Roach CANNOT take 20 wickets against Sri Lanka. You cannot have a captain who cannot pull his weight in the side unless he is a fantastic leader & a tactical genius...even then if he can't put in a shift as a bowler???? your asking for trouble. You might get away with it if he's a keeper or batsmen depending on the strength of your side....but not for too long!!

  • hazeltine on November 30, 2010, 14:27 GMT

    Once again we have an article from Mr Cozier that lacks any real analysis of the WIndian side! Darren Bravo did show a lot of maturity but both he and Baugh threw their wickets away when they should have been looking to stay in for longer. To have Sammy or Dwayne Bravo opening the bowling with Roach is just PLAIN RIDICULOUS. Drop Bravo or Shillingford and bring back Russell. Staying on the bowling, they all bowled much too short on a slow pitch and not surprisingly, ended up being pulled and cut with ease. I am still not hearing any tactical thoughts from Sammy when he talks about the team, he just comes out with some general rubbish that does not tally with the way the team are playing, for example, we are still dropping too many catches and the intensity resembles a Saturday amateur side, just look at our inept attitude after we made them follow on in the First Test.

  • Doubleheader on November 30, 2010, 14:10 GMT

    Riverline why on earth would you put Andre Russell back in this team ahead of shane Shillingford? And why is it that whenever our selectors discover new talent to add some zip to our bowling attack the powers that be always find some way of railroading that talent? The same thing happened to Jermaine Lawson. Come on people grow some backbone. Let the ICC and these so called elite umpires know that we are not going to tolerate this bullshit anymore. We have to get in the habit of questioning people's motives and their agendas, and these so called tests to which bowlers are subjected to determined whether or not their arm is straightening or not are shady at best. Aren't you people aware that there are many pelters out there who are not being reported? Listen, I watched that second test and Shilly had them Sri Lankan batsmen in all sorts of trouble, because he was getting sharp turn. Mahela, an excellent player of spin, in fact, their best player of spin, was in knots.

  • MJB_68 on November 29, 2010, 10:37 GMT

    re R_Joseph... Sammy has figures of 12-208 against Bangladesh, and 17-692 against the rest. That's an average of 40.7, and his economy rate against better teams is 3.4 as well. If Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards were fit Sammy would not make the playing xi. Even with them absent he needs to start scoring some runs to justify his place, he can probably do ok as a tidy third seamer who stiffens up the lower order. As an opening bowler who isn't scoring runs, he's on shaky ground.

  • popahwheely on November 28, 2010, 23:32 GMT

    Cozier is just being cozier...but Bravo needs to step up he's been out of form like M. Johnson. Sammy is still the best option for captain no questions. Russel in for Shane and hopefully we get a competitive uninterrupted 3rd test.

  • riverlime on November 28, 2010, 22:47 GMT

    Mr Gonsalves, my comments are not intended to be divisive, but if you doubt the veracity of my allegations, then you can ask Mr Cozier HIMSELF, what his initial feelings to Lara's inclusion were. The esteemed correspondent suggested that Lara needed a few more years at regional level before he was ready. Water under the bridge by now, of course, but still a bit rich to jump on the Lara-Bravo bandwagon. R_Joseph, I agree with you that Sammy has earned his place, and not just because of the numbers. Just look at the effort he gets out of his team. Better than gayle , Chanders, Sarwan or even Lara managed. Sammy can stay, but Shillingford knows the umpires are looking at him, so he will not risk being called again, since that leads to a definitive ban. Accordingly, Shillingford's sting has been drawn and the SL batsmen will lead him on a merry dance. Remedy------- Andre Russell back in.

  • Metman on November 28, 2010, 21:42 GMT

    @riverlime !Bring proof that Tony Cozier said those words,don't rely on hearsay!The Tony Cozier that I know would never say those words.Talk is cheap ,do some reseach and come back and comment !I agree with you though that Shillingford appears to be throwing so does Murali,Botha,Harbajan and the spinner from Pak(can't remember his name) among others.How did Cozier obliquely hinted that the Umpires were wrong to report Shillingford for throwing ? explain ! By the way Ian Bishop ,Carlton Baugh scored 50 ,and his keeping was good,TAKE THAT !

  • R_Joseph on November 28, 2010, 17:51 GMT

    Between 1994 and 2010, 20 fast bowlers débuted and played 5 or more tests for the West Indies. This group consists of Cuffy, Dillon, Rose, McLean, Collymore, Collins, King, Black, Lawson, Drakes, Powell, Sandiford, Edwards, Taylor, Best, Bravo, Bradshaw, Sammy, Roach, and Ramphal. Where does Sammy rank in this group as an effective bowler, having played 10 tests and taken 29 wickets? Strike Rate: 62.6; only Lawson, Roach, Rose, Edwards and Taylor are better. Ave Runs Per Wicket: 31.03; only Roach, Lawson and Rose are better. Economy Rate: 2.97; only Cuffy and Collymore are better 5 wickets in an innings: 3 times; only Edwards and Collymore are better

    Based on these stats, Sammy is clearly one of the more effective bowlers to have played for the WI in the last 16 years, on this evidence he deserves his place in the WI team.

    Let's support the WI captain in his new role, and desist from tearing him down after just two test matches, as Cozier is bent on doing.

  • kingstonsfinest on November 28, 2010, 16:10 GMT

    I have nothing but respect for Daren Sammy but the truth is staring him in the face right now- he is not going to hold down his spot in this side when Dwayne Bravo is available. Bravos potential with the bat and ball makes him a much better selection than Sammy any day so the selectors are backed into a corner on this tour. It is going to be interesting to see if Shillingford is picked for the next test if he isnt then Sammy's place is safe, if he is questions must be asked about the wisdom of giving the new ball to a guy whos average pace is 124 ks.

  • dummy4fb on November 28, 2010, 15:13 GMT

    Cozier wrote that "Lara had neither the class nor maturity to succeed" ?

    I have been following West Indies cricket closely from the mid 80s and cant recall Cozier ever having that opinion. As a matter of fact Cozier like every other journalist and cricket fan anticipated Lara's test debut as he was already a star from his school days.

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